All photos: Jackie Garcia
The Gipsy Kings took the Wolftrap stage with ten players on Tuesday night. World-renowned, French born and Spanish-speaking, the Gipsy Kings have been kicking around since the 70s. Aside from the occasional “thank you” in English, the show was narrated in Spanish. I could make out “Stand up!” “Thank you,” and “Ladies,” so I won’t transcribe much of their speech here, only the feeling.
They played two sold-out shows this week at Wolftrap. Their fans cheered upon hearing their favorite classics like “Djobi Djoba” and “Mi Corazon.” Seven guitars were played on stage simultaneously. All acoustic but the bass, I would have expected a soft feeling but they managed to build to a loud, heavy tone. The flamenco style is what lends this solid foundation to the pop songs; it requires both a flawless rhythm and constant strumming, so fast at times on stage it looked like the players were flapping their hands. When they clapped onstage, encouraging us, they even clapped in a fast flamenco rhythm.
My primary interest in them is less musically sophisticated than I’d like to admit. A while back, the band covered “Hotel California.” It wasn’t just any old cover, no, they played the song in a way my limited vocabulary can only describe as epic. I would collide stars and turn the earth in a different direction if I could, but all I have at my disposal is “epic.” That fast-picking flamenco style guitar narrates the opening line and an almost hoarse, strong voice intones the words (in Spanish, of course). And it introduces “The Jesus” in “The Big Lebowski.” What’s not to love? What I didn’t know was, though I went for the covers, I would stay for the flamenco.
The band is made up of brothers from two families, the Reyes family and The Ballardo family. Voices of three of their singers, including Reyes family frontman Nicolas, were what really distinguished their songs from your every day flamenco. His ragged, smoky midtone voice took what could have been cheesier sounding love songs and molded them into timeless ballads. The three and sometimes four part harmony was deliciously, classically good and technically informed. They played a few instrumental numbers, and when players soloed, other players gestured towards each other, a sweet gesture that happened again and again throughout the night. One would gesture to another, and then he would gesture back to show his appreciation. Sometimes the men were rattled by technical problems. They rolled their eyes and talked to each other away from the mics with faces that said, “What can I do?” when a little feedback snapped on the stage, or if they couldn’t hear themselves that well. It was comical. They had big personalities, and it showed.
So they didn’t play “Hotel California,” but instead covered “Volare” a reminder of what their parents must have played while they grew up, a reminder that they are from a different generation of musician, not to mention a different nationality of musician. Ending with their beloved classic “Bamboleo,” the Gipsy Kings rocked Wolftrap.